Better food safety practices are likely to be among the permanent effects of the pandemic for foodservice operations. To ensure your improved practices have staying power, it’s important to bring together the various metrics you use to evaluate your food safety – including inspections from health departments and third parties as well as your own assessments – then review them regularly and communicate them clearly to staff. Comparing results over time and synthesizing evaluations from different sources can help you identify problem spots that need attention and translate them into clear action items for your team.
The intense heat people are experiencing in many parts of the country this summer, along with ongoing labor shortages and supply chain challenges, require some extra vigilance when to comes to food safety. Trucks may be taking longer to get foods to their destinations, providing more opportunities for food to be exposed to the temperature danger zone – particularly in record-breaking heat. Take extra care right now in checking deliveries to ensure food is being delivered at safe temperatures, is labeled with expected use-by dates, and shows no evidence of damage or decay (e.g. unsealed packaging or evidence of pests or freezer burn). Also be aware of foods that may be dangerous to eat due to the temperature spikes in parts of the country.
As you continue to build business back up after the constraints of the pandemic, you may be feeling the need to cut corners and revert to manual processes that you had been delegating to technology. Food Safety Tech reports that restaurants that had been using operational software to monitor food safety processes may be slipping back to the pen-and-clipboard method in an effort to contain costs on tech. Or, those that had been integrating more smart devices into their operation – remote temperature sensors or Bluetooth temperature probes, for example – may be using not-so-smart methods to track food safety practices if and when those devices break or need replacement. While this may be unavoidable in the near term, it just means that some extra precision is required at each stage to ensure your food safety standards aren’t slipping.
Is your team always inspection-ready? If not, having interim inspections can help your team develop the procedures it needs to form better habits – and make the actual inspection not such a big deal. Get an up-to-date copy of your local health inspector’s evaluation criteria and use it to fine-tune your existing procedures and division of tasks during each shift. If you’re in the midst of onboarding new staff and concerned about having tasks fall through the cracks as you get everyone up to speed, it can also help to use task management software to generate lists of tasks for employees to carry out. This can keep people on track regardless of how long they have been with you and who is around to assign tasks.
As you open your doors to guests this spring, the windows and doors helping you ventilate your facility could also make it easier for pests to find their way inside. Check screens on windows and doors for holes and other damage, and if you have storage areas or outbuildings that haven’t been used as frequently during the pandemic, check for rodent activity. Inspect the exterior of your facility for cracks and trim back any brush that could harbor pests close to your walls. Ensure any sticky spills aren’t left for long periods, particularly if you have staff and guests circulating regularly between indoor and outdoor seating areas. Finally, since insects can hitch a ride into your kitchen on contaminated food, be sure to check your food deliveries for pest activity upon arrival and to store them promptly afterwards.
The pandemic has changed the game for the long term when it comes to safety at restaurants. Protocols to keep people safe are no longer just in the purview of health inspectors but are also of greater interest to your customers and the general public – and an extension of the service you offer. It’s more important than ever to be able to respond knowledgeably and professionally to scrutiny and misinformation about your food safety when you are questioned about it by customers or online reviews. Support your staff by creating quizzes and contests that arm them with scientific facts they should have at their fingertips, then reward compliance. Incorporate everything from pandemic-related safety measures related to how the virus spreads, to longstanding safety measures related to handwashing, allergen safety and contamination prevention.
This has been a year when restaurants have had to do more with less – and it’s understandable if overdue maintenance and repairs have had to take a backseat to other concerns. But the colder weather means that your restaurant could quickly become a warm haven for pests (and a problem for business) if you don’t take precautions to discourage them from entering and multiplying. Be alert to potential signs of a problem – such as gnaw marks or feces – and have an exterminator in as soon as possible if you discover them. Seal off cracks and crevices around and inside your facility and regularly check hidden areas where pests might lurk, such as around pipes and under or around appliances.
We’re all getting used to doing more tasks remotely lately – and your food safety audits may be heading in that direction if you aren’t already conducting them remotely. These audits tend to be conducted either via cameras installed onsite or via a handheld camera that employee uses to do a walk-through of your facility. Food Quality & Safety advises that you conduct employee training on how to present your facility professionally via video, and also manage the related risks carefully – particularly when it comes to data security and keeping sensitive business information safe.
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has addressed the need for good ventilation in its guidance about keeping indoor spaces safe from the coronavirus, overhauling ventilation systems isn’t typically at the top of the list of actions restaurant operators are taking to make their facilities safer right now. There are likely good reasons for that: For one, the challenging economic climate makes it difficult to fathom making a significant investment in an HVAC update. But what if there were more cost-effective ways to improve the air quality in your restaurant? Regular system inspections and maintenance, attention to cleaning products and protocols, and the reconfiguring of your kitchen and dining room can all help. This report from Modern Restaurant Management offers additional guidance (https://bit.ly/2DCTjSa).
Consumers are monitoring your adherence to new safety precautions. Increasingly, so are cameras. Last year, Domino’s launched a back-of-house camera system called Dragontail to help assess basic quality control measures, like whether pizzas were the proper shape. But as Spoon reports, Dragontail is now launching an AI-powered camera that can also help monitor kitchen safety – detecting whether gloves and masks are being worn and how often a workspace is sanitized, for example. Expect more of this to come as restaurants embrace technology and face increased scrutiny of their health and safety practices. #foodsafety